It may well be the most significant issue for the UK in decades but there is no point in my writing about what happens next in the saga known as Brexit because I haven’t the vaguest idea where we are headed and nor, more to the point, does anyone from the prime minister downwards – always assuming she is still PM by the time you read this.
This is truly uncharted territory in a way I have never known in more than 40 years in active politics and proof if it were ever needed that as Harold Wilson so perceptively remarked, a week is a very long time in politics.
I can offer only that the chances of Theresa May remaining leader of the Conservative Party much beyond the middle of 2019 are now miniscule. She has left her party rudderless, demoralised and at war with itself. The sheer bile so-called colleagues have been prepared to throw at each other over the past 18 months has been horrific. The idea that these people even like each other now seems ludicrously naive.
The next leader’s most important job will be to stick the party back together. So the key qualification for leadership will be relative neutrality on Brexit.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Amber Rudd, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and several other prominent figures all have their supporters but are simply unacceptable to too many MPs on the other side of the Great Divide whose votes will decide the outcome.
Given the swiftness of the collapse in support for May it is also hard to see one of the new generation of Tories succeeding her – and that’s perhaps no bad thing. Their time will come after the dust has settled.
All of which points to two obvious candidates. There were actually three of Cameron’s cabinet who reluctantly declared themselves remainers essentially out of loyalty, who only made one speech each during the whole referendum campaign and when they did, each of them managed to sound more like a leaver. Those three were May herself (much to David Cameron’s irritation), Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.
Javid has improved enormously over the past couple of years. He was a hopeless speaker in his early days as an MP and even as a minister, but he sounds much more assured now and is clearly intent on cleaning out the Home Office without too much concern for how the current prime minister left the place.
A safe pair of hands
That said, Hunt is the more likely to succeed. Hardly charismatic but certainly a strong and reliable media performer and a safe pair of hands during his stint as the longest-serving health secretary in our history, he is now showing how the foreign secretary’s job should be done – in stark contrast to his predecessor.
This fluent Japanese speaker (his wife, as it happens, is Chinese) is no pushover. Remember May’s first attempt to reshuffle him in January this year when she told him she wanted him to be business secretary? He politely told her to stuff the job where the sun don’t shine and simply carried on.
However, when she offered him one of the great offices of state, his reluctance to leave Health miraculously disappeared. This boy is no slouch, which is perhaps why he’s also one of the most successful businessmen in politics having made £14m from his share of a publishing business when it was sold.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn continues as Labour leader without actually leading his party. We still don’t know what he really thinks about a second referendum, although we know that the powerful Unite union’s leader Len McCluskey detests the idea, which may give us a clue.
Labour should be all over the Tories given the state they’re in but aren’t. However improbable it seems, the next election is still more likely to be four years away than next week.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land